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I have not yet dealt with one important aspect of the Bill, which is the issue of animal rights, which has caused considerable concern among right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. I have already set out my views, but I shall briefly reiterate them. Peaceful protest is, of course, acceptable. However, seeking to disrupt, frighten and harass other individuals and their lawful businesses by the means that so-called animal rights people adopt is totally unacceptable in the kind of society that we want.
Some people have hesitations about this matter, so I want to place on record my personal thanks and admiration for the very difficult work undertaken by those who conduct research on animals. None of the people who conduct such research like doing it. They all wish that alternatives were available, and as soon as they are--and have attained an acceptable standard--those people will be the first to move away from those procedures and to start using procedures that do not involve animals.
The experiments are conducted in this country under legislation passed by the previous Administration, with which we have continued, in a regime that is tougher than any other in the western world that I know of. The consequences of being able to conduct such research are that a range of drugs and other procedures are now available that have ensured that many of us--including, I might say, myself--are able to lead a decent life, and that many people's lives have been extended. Many would simply have died were such drug therapy not available--no doubt many of those who masquerade as animal rights protesters among them.
Protecting such research is not an incidental, but of profound importance. For that reason, thanks to representations from the right hon. Members for Huntingdon and for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell), I quickly agreed that
Furthermore, I told the House that we would conduct urgent consultations about changing the law. Those changes are not in the Bill for reasons that the House will understand. We are urgently consulting on two matters. One is a change to section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, which would make it an offence for people--even an individual--to protest outside people's houses. I have been on loads of protests, but I have never considered that any part of peaceful protest requires people to protest outside other people's private houses. When I was on demonstrations, we wanted to protest in the main street. Protesting outside people's houses is an outrageous piece of harassment. We have to deal with that.
The second change is to make the test in the malicious communications offences objective, not one that essentially allows people who send malicious communications to escape because the defence is subjective.
Sir Brian Mawhinney (North-West Cambridgeshire): I thank the Home Secretary: when he spoke about those who work in animal research institutions, he spoke for the whole House. I also thank him for redeeming the promise to introduce legislation, which will be extremely important to constituents of mine and of my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) whose properties have been fire-bombed. They have been harassed and intimidated in a quite disgraceful way. Will the Home Secretary be kind enough to make every effort to introduce the proposals in Committee so that they can be considered in depth rather than on Report, when there will be less opportunity?
Mr. Straw: The answer is, yes, I promise to do my best to do so, although the right hon. Gentleman is perhaps more familiar with the legislative process than I, and we are already consulting. We are very open about the consultation and want it to continue.
I do not happen to know people in the right hon. Gentleman's constituency or that of the right hon. Member for Huntingdon who have been involved, but I do happen to know those who were involved in similar animal experimentation in Oxfordshire. The distress caused to decent, law-abiding people is just unbelievable. Most Members of the House are willing to put up with a bit of protest against them. Certainly those in posts such as mine know that that is par for the course, but it is not par for the course for decent people who are not in public life and just want to go about their business.
Mr. Major: I hope to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to speak about this matter at greater length, but it might be appropriate to put on record my unambiguous thanks to the Home Secretary for obtaining the money from the Treasury, which is not lightly done. No Chief Secretary lightly coughs up money; if he does so, he should not be Chief Secretary.
I also thank the Home Secretary for his willingness to accept representations about changing the law and to introduce such changes. I have more representations to make to him--some this afternoon, some later--but I say on behalf of my constituents that that willingness has been well received. The right hon. Gentleman has been supportive of the work that goes on both in helping to meet the extra policing costs caused by the demonstrations and in his determination to change the law--through the Bill, I hope.
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): May I say how warmly my right hon. Friend's remarks will be welcomed in my constituency? My constituents include not only people who work at Huntingdon Life Sciences, but many scientists who work with animals on medical research. During the last week I have received more than 50 letters and e-mails from scientists, some of whom have been so intimidated and harassed that they have been afraid to put their addresses on the letters. I am very pleased about my right hon. Friend's determination to tackle this difficult situation.
The Bill provides for a number of improvements in the training organisation of the police service, and includes other important measures. It draws together proposals to modernise a wide range of powers for the police, the courts and other law enforcement agencies. It also seeks to make changes relating to the funding and organisation of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the National Crime Squad. Overall, it seeks to enable those services to perform more effectively, and to tackle criminal behaviour better in the 21st century.
Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald): Let me make it clear--as my predecessors and I have done on other occasions during this Parliament--that, unlike the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary when they were in opposition, we always seek to give a fair wind to law and order measures if they are sensible. Although we have some reservations about parts of the Bill, therefore, we shall not divide the House at this stage. That does not mean, however, that we are content with the detail of all the measures proposed.